A $7.3 million round of state grants will allow groups in 13 different towns and cities to buy and preserve more than 1,000 acres of open space.
Since the state’s open space program began in 1998, more than $150 million in state money had helped towns, cities,nonprofit conservation groups and water companies to buy more than 41,200 acres of land, Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Katie Dykes said in a news release.
State statute calls for DEEP to protect 11 percent of the state’s land through those “partner” organizations – which is about 352,634 acres. As of the end of March, DEEP estimated those groups held about 251,099 acres of land – more than 70 percent of the goal.
With all the purchases set to be funded by this round of grants, they will need to preserve about another 100,000 acres to reach that goal.
“Open space preservation and access to open space is fundamentally important to our well-being,” Dykes said. “It is critical in our fight against climate change, protects wildlife habitat, and provides recreational opportunities that benefit us physically and mentally, and supports our economy by helping to attract and retain residents who are increasingly looking for opportunities to be in nature.”
Some of the 13 open space grants announced on Wednesday will connect existing open space parcels, combining into much larger tracts of protected land. The Madison Land Conservation Trust was awarded $585,000 to buy a 29-acre property on Green Hill Road, which will connect two other open space properties to create a 111-acre, contiguous preserve along the Hammonasset River, according to the release.
Other grants will expand existing open space by bringing in adjacent properties. In Redding, the Nature Conservancy was awarded $1.1 million to buy the 99-acre Granskog Property, which is the last large, undeveloped parcel adjacent to its 1,833-acre Devil’s Pen Preserve, according to the release.
In Portland and East Hampton, the Middlesex Land Trust will use its $364,000 grant to buy a 147.4 acre property that will connect the land trust’s 15-acre Rattlesnake Brook Preserve to the Meshomasic State Forest – a 15,000-acre greenway that stretches out to Glastonbury and Hebron.
The land trust will blaze a connector trail from the property to the Shenipsit Trail – a blue-blazed trail that runs along the ridgeline in the Meshomasic State Forest, and extends up to near the Massachusetts border.
Middlesex Land Trust executive director David Brown said the land has been a target for the state to expand Meshomasic, and it made “complete sense” for the land trust to take the opportunity to buy the land and connect its own parcel to the state forest, and preserve land that had the potential to be developed.
Brown said the trust’s volunteers started working over a year ago to apply for the Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition Grant, which is a key source of funding for open space acquisitions.
“Getting the grant is a big key to the financing structure,” Brown said. “Without it, some other funders might not join the project. Not to say we wouldn’t do the project without it, but it would have been much, much, much more difficult.”
Now that the key piece of funding is in place, Brown said the land trust’s volunteers will focus on getting the rest of the funding in place so they can close the purchase. The grant can only fund the purchase of land, so the volunteers will work to raise more money to build the trails and add signs, he said.
“It’s a big acquisition and a big grant to win, and we’re very excited,” Brown said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to expand an important, forested landscape and protect an additional 150 acres of unbroken forest.”